In this letter, I'm going to try to share with you a little about what brought me to make this film, and what I hope the film accomplishes.
I grew up in a strange immigrant household. My dad is from Perú, and my mom is Irish-American. I didn't grow up speaking Spanish, but I did grow up drinking Inca Kola, taking the occasional trip to Perú, and watching my dad watch countless hours of Spanish Language TV. Growing up in a suburban, semi-assimilated, mixed race, immigrant household helped make me aware that the way we think about immigration in America is a little simplistic.
One side of the immigration debate holds that immigrants steal American jobs, and that a strict immigration policy, fortifying the borders, and deporting "illegal aliens" are all legitimate fronts on the "War on Terror." The other side of the debate counters that the vast majority of immigrants — legal or not — come to this country only to work, that they receive substandard wages, and that America offers them little protection or dignity.
I was drawn to the story of The Sixth Section, thinking that it had the potential to destroy a lot of the assumptions that underlay the immigration debate.
Far from "stealing jobs," and far from "being exploited," the men who form Grupo Unión are savvy and ambitious people who face huge obstacles — drought, poverty and corruption in Mexico, long hours, low pay, and anti-immigrant politics in the U.S. — but who have found a unique way to try to solve the problems they were born into.
The thousands of immigrant organizations around the country, like Grupo Unión, are evidence that twenty-first century immigrants are not "criminals" or "victims," but are simply people who are actively trying to find a way to survive and progress in the context of the "New World Order."
In a way, their story is a mirror image of the globalization debate. First World corporations move their factories to the Third World because they can get more for their money. Why pay a unionized American worker in Detroit $30 an hour when in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, you can pay less than $5 a day?
In the story of Grupo Unión we see a small Mexican town behaving like a transnational corporation — reversed. Instead of exporting jobs to the third world in order to pay low wages, the town of Boqueron has exported workers to Newburgh, in order to earn higher wages. The two processes are mirror images of each other. But, for some reason, when the executive travels to Mexico to relocate his factory, he doesn't have to hide in the trunk of a car.
In The Sixth Section, I wanted to use digital video to make these urgent issues both personal and visual. Working with co-producer Bernardo Ruiz, I used a small video camera, the PD-150, which was unobtrusive and worked well in the low light of the nighttime meetings. In post-production, we worked in After Effects, a program that lets you work with digital video in a very fluid way. Digital imaging is, to me, the only way to visualize the unique place Grupo Unión exists in — a place that is neither here nor there. Through digital effects, maps are warped, people appear and disappear, and far away landscapes blend into one. These images are not fantasy — they are an honest attempt to reflect a reality that tens of millions of uprooted people around the world are living every day.
The real stories being lived by today's immigrants, like those portrayed in The Sixth Section, don't fit in the confines of today's immigration debate. The debate functions on simple opposites of "good" and "evil," of "criminals" or "victims." I hope this video serves to provoke discussion and dialogue that might take our national conversation about immigration to a new level.
Thanks for taking the time to read this, and to watch The Sixth Section.
— Alex Rivera
New York, 2003